Few things are as exciting as selling a home for the first time, and in all the excitement it’s easy to forget these very important legal tips for selling your Southern California home. Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done to get the home show-ready—decluttering, making repairs, and increasing the overall curb appeal—but all the prep work required is just step one.
Remember, the physical prep isn’t the only work you’ll need to do as you ready your home for sale. You should also be prepared for the legal requirements that come with selling a home in California, and the customs specific to southern California as well. For instance, did you know it’s required to disclose neighborhood issues or HOA restrictions? And do you know which of the process fees and taxes will fall on your plate as opposed to the buyer’s?
As you prepare your home to sell, here are four tips for navigating the real estate legal process, so you can make sure your upcoming deal is watertight.
Contracts Must be in Writing
When you sell your California home or property, essentially all contracts and licenses need to be in writing to be valid—otherwise, they will be rendered voidable. Generally, verbal real estate agreements are not enforceable unless both parties agree to enforce the agreement later. If either party changes their mind down the line, the validity of the contract could be called into question. For this reason, California (and most of the United States) requires real estate transactions to occur in writing.
Fortunately, written contracts and disclosures don’t carry the same risk as oral agreements. You have a physical paper trail listing the agreement, so both parties are fairly held to the agreed-upon elements.
Because there’s so much riding on the written contracts, it’s crucial to have a real estate lawyer draw up valid agreements and contracts for your property sale to help you avoid any legal issues down the road.
Sellers Must Disclose Comprehensive Property Facts
The state of California requires sellers to disclose in writing any material facts of property that may affect the potential buyer’s desire to purchase the property or the amount they are willing to pay. This is a step you absolutely can’t overlook.
Sellers who do not disclose a material fact on the Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS) can face severe penalties, and an incomplete disclosure may give the buyer an option to terminate their offer—the last thing you want after coming so close to a completed sale. If you are unsure whether to disclose something about the property or not, go the safe route and disclose. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Contrary to what you might assume, the disclosure statement isn’t just about listing potential problems or irregularities; it also delineates the number and type of appliances in the home, plumbing elements like sump pumps or water softeners, and more. It also requires the disclosure of burglar alarms, as some cities like Los Angeles have strict alarm permitting rules, making it important for the buyer to know up front what permitting fees and fines they’ll be signing on for if they leave the system in place. You’ll also need to note any on-property deaths that occurred within the last three years.
Real Estate Transactions Almost Always Use a Title Company and an Escrow Agent
If you’re selling your southern California home, your title company will call for a title search and produce a Preliminary Title Report (PTR). The title company will also provide title insurance to the buyer based on the PTR. Mortgage lenders require title insurance prior to funding the potential home buyer’s loan.
The buyer typically suggests a title company in their initial offer to purchase the home. The seller can make suggestions for another company, but the buyer is not required to use the seller’s specified insurance company.
In southern California, it’s common for the seller to pay for title insurance, though the decision of who pays is ultimately negotiable. It’s perfectly fine for the buyer and seller to split the cost if they both agree to it.
Escrow in southern California follows a similar pattern—both parties come to an agreement about the escrow agent (usually opting for an independent escrow company rather than a title company). However, when it comes to payment, it’s common for the buyer and seller to split the cost, rather than the seller footing the bill.
Sellers May Have to Pay a Transfer Tax
As your home is transferred from you to the buyer, the county recorder’s office will file a document showing the property has changed owners. When this occurs, a transfer tax is imposed by the county or city where the property is located.
Sellers can negotiate with the buyer about who pays for the tax, but the trend in southern California real estate transactions is for the seller to pay.
Seasoned real estate agents can help you calculate the transfer tax for the sale of your home—another excellent benefit of not going it alone. They’ll also let you know if you might be eligible for any exemptions or breaks that could help reduce the overall cost.
When it comes to selling your California home, don’t let the legal requirements worry you. Talk to a real estate professional about more legal tips for selling your Southern California home to help you understand ALL the disclosure laws and requirements that apply to your home sale. With the information listed here and a top-notch team behind you, you can ensure that your sale goes as smoothly as possible.